In his first year of graduate school, Rice University biochemist Zachary Wright discovered something hidden inside a common piece of cellular machinery that's essential for all higher order life from yeast to humans. What Wright saw in 2015 --subcompartments inside organelles called peroxisomes is described in a study published online on December 4, 2020 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Peroxisomes Form Intralumenal Vesicles with Roles in Fatty Acid Catabolism and Protein Compartmentalization in Arabidopsis” (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20099-y). "This is, without a doubt, the most unexpected thing our lab has ever discovered," said study co-author Bonnie Bartel, PhD, Wright's PhD advisor and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. "This requires us to rethink everything we thought we knew about peroxisomes." Dr.Bartel is the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of BioSciences at Rice. Peroxisomes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peroxisome)--are compartments where cells turn fatty molecules into energy and useful materials, like the myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells. In humans, peroxisome dysfunction has been linked to severe metabolic disorders, and peroxisomes may have wider significance for neurodegeneration, obesity, cancer, and age-related disorders. Much is still unknown about peroxisomes, but their basic structure--a granular matrix surrounded by a sack-like membrane--wasn't in question in 2015. Dr. Bartel said that's one reason Wright's discovery was surprising. "We're geneticists, so we're used to unexpected things. But usually they don't come in Technicolor," she said, referring to another surprising aspect of Wright's find: beautiful color images that show both the walls of the peroxisome subcompartments and their interiors.
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